A complete guide to Christmas leftovers
Redcliffe Hospital Dietitian Jacinta Sultana loves enjoying Christmas food over the holidays, but her favourite dish is a cherry trifle. While she is the first to admit she loves a leftover, she recognises how important it is to store food safely and avoid illness.
Christmas has been and gone but our festive leftovers tend to linger in our fridges for just a few extra days! While leg ham for breakfast and an extra slice of Christmas pudding make the perfect low-maintenance snacks over the holiday season, Redcliffe Hospital Dietitian Jacinta Sultana says it’s important to know what you can keep so you don’t risk becoming unwell.
“Festive food can take hours upon hours to prepare, so we often want to keep it – but bacteria can grow between temperatures of 5°C and 60°C which means for many food items left out for extended periods of time in the Australian heat, it’s actually better to throw it away rather than keep the leftovers,” she said.
“Cleaning up can feel like a pain when you’re full of great food and busy spending time with family, but quickly wrapping up all the delicious food and storing it properly can buy you a few more days of enjoying those leftovers, while ensuring you stay safe from foodborne illness.”
Jacinta’s top tips
- Store raw meat and cooked meat separately to avoid cross-contamination. Keep raw meat on the lower shelves of the fridge to avoid any spillages onto other food, meanwhile keep cooked meat above on higher shelves so you know what’s safe to eat. The same goes when transporting food to different lunches and gatherings. Keep raw meats at the bottom of your cooler bag.
- The safe zone for storage is 5°C or colder, so make sure your fridge is set to the right temperature.
- Clean up straight away after eating. This gives less of an opportunity for bacteria to multiply. When preparing leftovers, eat foods taken out of chilled storage within four hours.
- Avoid making large platters and leaving them out for hours while people graze. Instead, work with a smaller platter and continue to top it up with food fresh from the fridge. This helps keep the food tasting better and prevents wastage too.
- Cool leftovers like turkey or ham more quickly by cutting into portions or freeze and defrost as needed, but don’t refreeze or reheat more than once!
- For salads, cob loaves and pavlovas, refer to use by dates if purchased or if homemade, eat within two days of preparation. For more food-specific tips, see below:
The leg of ham
It’s typically the centrepiece of any Christmas feast and the most sought-after leftover for sandwiches the next day. To make it last, store the leg in a ham bag or damp tea towel in the fridge. Store cooked ham above any other raw meats in your fridge to avoid it being contaminated.
Ham will keep for up to two weeks when stored properly in the fridge and it will freeze well for up to four weeks.
Turkey, poultry and stuffing
If you’re planning to freeze any poultry prior to cooking it for Christmas, it’s best to do this immediately after purchasing. Don’t freeze raw poultry that is not entirely fresh. When cooking, ensure the temperate reaches a minimum of 75°C and that it’s been cooked all the way through. Be sure to eat any poultry (and the stuffing inside) within a maximum of three days (ideally 48 hours) or put in suitable containers to freeze (the temperature should be below -20°C).
While most Aussie families enjoy a variety of seafood in their Christmas feast, prawns are an all-time favourite! According to the Australian Prawns Farmers Association, 40% of Australian prawn consumption happens over Christmas. You should eat within two days of purchasing and store below 5°C. Leftovers can be kept for two days in the fridge but are likely to taste better if consumed within a day.
The cheese platter
Hard cheeses like parmesan and pecorino can be stored for between two to four months in the fridge, or up to eight months in the freezer. Be sure to store them in airtight containers to avoid any bacteria growing.
Semi-soft or firm cheeses
Cheeses like cheddar or gouda can last for about two to three weeks in the fridge when stored correctly.
Soft or fresh cheeses
These include camembert, brie and mozzarella. If kept in the coldest part of the fridge, they should last for up to two weeks!